This weekend sees the titanic clash of the top 4 teams in the Guinness Premiership: Gloucester, Wasps, Bath & Leicester.
It’s been a long old season, interrupted by the World Cup, but during that time we’ve witnessed a dramatic struggle to gain the ascendancy in the league. Once again, Gloucester have topped the regular season, and once again Wasps have timed their run to perfection, waiting until the 11th hour to slide into second spot and a home semi-final.
Wasps, however have shown a slight fallibility of late, leaking tries in a defence that’s normally more miserly than Scrooge at Christmas, though they possess a cutting edge in attack, spearheaded by the golden-boy Cipriani. Gloucester have instead excelled in defence, their tussle with Bath last weekend giving a textbook version of how to stifle everything that the in-form Bath could throw at them.
And as for Bath, over the latter end of the season, they’ve displayed a delicious brand of that elixir of ‘total rugby’ that the ELV’s have so conspicuously failed to deliver. The sight of Matt Stevens throwing dummies and pinning his ears back for the gap, and Lee Mears barrelling his way through tackles before offloading with the deftest of hands, is a sight to behold and adds a killer edge to their attacking play.
And finally we come to Leicester. They slipped through the back door at Sale’s invitation and have quietly gone about their business. Despite the apparent unrest at the club, not least amongst the coaching staff, they have put in some dominant performances, exemplified when they thrashed Wasps at Welford Road back in March. However, typifying Leicester’s season, they were then on the receiving end of a loss against the same opponents just one week later.
The business end of the season is not a game of consistency though, and the mouthwatering fact is that each of the remaining four teams has the capacity to beat the others. Each of the teams contains match-winners, both in attack and defense. Each of the teams has put in a dominant performance in recent weeks.
It is therefore too close to call. Smart money would normally be on the big guns with the big match experience: Wasps and Leicester. However, Gloucester have performed when it mattered this season and raised their game for the big occasions, where once they may have faltered. And write off Bath at your peril.
Who do you think will win?
By Justin Aylward